Groundwork: the 5 basic exercises

The second training component of Horsefulness Training is Groundwork (Liberty Connection Training is the first training component).  Groundwork consists of exercises that you do with your horse while you stay on the ground and lead the horse on a (rope) halter, cavesson or neckrope + a long lead rope. Many exercises exist and they can be divided into five main groups.

1. Lead exercises

The name says it all: these exercises covers leading. You lead the horse from point A to point B on a halter and a rope. There are 3 lead positions:

Leading from the lead position

You walk in front of the horse and you clearly define your space. This way, the horse learns to respect your intimate and personal space.

You also work on your leadership skills, because you determine the direction and speed. However, in certain situations/cases, you can (deliberately!) choose to define your space less clearly or to go along with your horse in terms of direction or speed.

Leading from the partner position


You walk near the shoulder of the horse. The horse learns to stay next to you, both while walking and trotting, backing up, halting and waiting, turning to the left and to the right.

In this position, you can lead and drive the horse forward at the same time, which you practice both on the left side of the horse and on the right.

In most cases, you only do this exercise if you have established leading in the first position well. From this position you should be able to ask your horse to move out of your intimate space at all times.


Leading from the drive position

Here you walk diagonally behind the horse. From this position you can also ask your horse to move forward, speed up, slow down, turn, halt and wait. 

Easy Herding, the 4th connection exercise, is the perfect preparation for leading from the drive position.


2. Touch exercises

We do touch exercises so that the horse learns to accept, trust and ultimately enjoy our touches. There are two basic touch exercises.

1. Stroking

Here, you stroke the horse over the entire body with both hands. Attention is also given to the sensitive parts of the body such as the groin, belly, nipples, ears, mouth, eyes, and tail as well as under the tail.  You can also stroke the horse with a whip, a stick, a bag or a cloth. The horse will then trust these objects and learn to deal with sounds around and on his/her body, like a rustling plastic bag.

2. Grooming

Here, you scratch and rub the places that the horse clearly enjoys. This is often around the withers and mane. Many horses also enjoy the places around the tail, on the shoulders and the chest. Grooming aims to show you friendship for the horse. You can sometimes use it as a reward too.

Other bodywork are all types of massage (relaxation massage, shiatsu, TTouch ...). If you want to massage your horse, you will first need to know whether the horse already lets himself/herself be stroked, and whether he/she is calm and relaxed during stroking.

3. Yielding to physical aids

We teach the horse to go along with soft physical pressure. By doing this we give direction to the horse.  There are several basic yields that a horse should learn, to be able to work savely and fluently with your horse:

Head down: the horse yields to slight downward pressure behind the ears by lowering the head
Nose to flank: the horse yields to slight pressure on the side of the head by moving the nose to the flank
Backwards on the nose: the horse yields to slight pressure on the nose by giving and taking a step backwards
Forwards: the horse yields to slight forward pressure behind the ears by taking a step forward
Backwards on the chest: the horse yields to slight pressure on the chest by taking a step back
Forequarters yield: the horse yields to slight pressure on the shoulder by taking a step to the side with the forehand
Hindquarters yield: the horse yields to slight pressure on the side of the hindquarters by taking a step to the side with the hind leg
Bending: the horse yields to the slight pressure on the girth area by bending his/her body (the muscles tighten on the side where you apply pressure)
Follow the rope: the horse yields to the slight pressure on the halter by bringing the nose to the flank and then following the rope that surrounds his body
In addition to these 9 basic yielding exercises there are also other exercises you can practise: lifting the back in response to upward pressure under the belly of the horse, stepping forward when applying slight pressure to or next to the tail, lifting leg when applying slight upwards pressure to the leg, mouth open when you apply slight pressure to the corners of the mouth, ...

In the beginning, you just ask for one step. You gradually increase this to several steps (such as a whole turn around the forehand when yielding to pressure at the thigh). In other exercises, you start with 1 second and gradually increase this to half a minute or longer (such as head down). More about yielding to physical aids/direct pressure

4. Yielding to driving aids

Here, we ask the horse to yield, but we do not touch the horse. We use our energy and driving aids at a distance in such a way that the horse understands which direction we ask the horse to go. These exercises are often intertwined in the other basic exercises such as Leading and Circle Work. You can ask a horse to yield for driving aids

forward, backward, left and right
with the forequarters, with the hindquarters or both simultaneously

Basic exercises in which your horse yields to driving aids include when you invite the horse to

get out of your personal space
take a step backwards
go forward from the partnerposition
turn to the left and to the right from the partner position (from a halt or in movement)
to leave on a circle (you ask the forehand to leave to the right or to the left when you stand in front of the horse)
to disengage the hindquarters (yielding the hindquarters to the left or right, whether or not from movement)
a more advanced exercise is to ask the horse to do a shoulder-out or sideways.  

5. Circle Work

You ask the horse to move around you in a circle. Through body language, you teach the horse to start moving on the circle, slow down, speed up, halt, change direction,...

You can use circle work

to prepare your horse for lunging (getting attuned to each other's body language while circling)
to help your horse overcome obstacles without you walking in front of him/her (circling over a canvas, poles, through water,...)
to calm the nervous horse (by not forcing the horse to stand still, he will calm down quicker)
as a start to move sideways (which is gymnasticising the horse),...
and much more...

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Free e-book Horsefulness Groundwork Training with horses

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An Introduction to Horsefulness Groundwork

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